Dalton’s story: “I felt like someone believed in me”

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Dalton | 21 October 2021

We’ve launched our new five year strategy for 2022-2026. Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) alumnus, Dalton Harrison, was a member of our strategy development group, working to find ways in which PET can help more people and offer better support. His story below features as the strategy’s foreword.

That first letter home was the worst. That moment writing to my mum made my eyes burn. “I just wanted you to be proud of me and now look at where I am.”

Those words sat behind my rib cage and felt like they were smashing their way through me. The first few weeks of prison were some of the hardest of my life. I witnessed assaults, suicide attempts and brutality. The world I thought I knew had gone and what replaced it was a place that had its own rules, regulations and codes. I felt like I was sinking. I sat in a cell and tried to look up from my bed, so I could see the sky without the bars getting in the way. I had nothing. I felt nothing. I was nothing.

The first time I heard about Prisoners’ Education Trust from another prisoner, I actually smiled. “You mean there are charities that want to help prisoners?” I felt my body loosen. “They can’t help everyone. But yeah, they give you funding so you can do courses.”

I got a form. Poured my heart out and hoped beyond hope I would get supported. I received a letter. They would fund my application for the arts and languages Access course I had applied for with the Open University. This letter felt like the golden ticket. It felt like I had been trusted. That someone believed in me.

I rang my mother and told her all about it. By then she was so ill and I didn’t realise how far her cancer had spread. She said she had studied that in Holland and I said I could tell her all about it and we could have debates.

The day the books arrived the officer said, “Has Christmas come early?” I said I was born on Christmas Day and this definitely felt like all my Christmases and birthdays had come at once.

I opened up the books and the learning CDs in my friend’s room. She had a DVD player and she was as excited as me as we watched together. It took us into the Tate Britain in London and I saw Tracey Emin’s piece ‘The Perfect Place to Grow’. I promised myself at that moment I would go to the Tate Britain when I got out.

I learnt about graffiti, poetry and activism. I started to dream of a life where I could be free to do all those things. My life had been small and the prison was smaller but in the folds of the textbooks I was reading, I saw the world.

When I left prison I contacted Prisoners’ Education Trust and joined their Alumni Network. I felt a part of a bigger community. I was a student. I went to the Tate Britain, I went to poetry events, the theatre and to Leake Street tunnel in London. This year I will be starting a Criminal Justice and Criminology BA.

Every person in prison should have these opportunities to learn and to grow. This strategy describes how Prisoners’ Education Trust wants to make this happen.

Words by Dalton Harrison, Prisoners’ Education Trust alumnus

If you would like to work with us to support the implementation of this strategy, please get in touch. If you would like to make a donation to support PET’s work, please visit our Donate page.

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